Sunday, February 17, 2013

Cornish Hens with Simple Stuffing

Stuffed cornish hens
I don't know why I don't cook cornish hens more often. They're delicious. They're cheap. They're basically begging for a mini Thanksgiving dinner meal in the middle of whenever. That's a party, right there.
So when I saw them at the grocery store the other day on sale, tonight's dinner was set in advance. Two cornish hens, stuffed with a simple stuffing. Oh and broccoli. And left over mashed potatoes from last night's romp.
Start out by preparing your stuffing. What stuffing recipe to use? Use any stuffing recipe. When making stuffing that's not intended for some big fancy pants occasion, I like to play jazz a little bit... get rid of all the "about to go bad" stuff in my fridge, and a few of the "why the hell did I buy that" ingredients in my pantry. This time, I think we ended up with a pretty decent stuffing recipe.
The start of all great stuffings


4 bulkie rolls (left over from who knows when in my freezer)
1 carrot
1 onion
1 stalk of celery
2 garlic cloves
1 sprig of thyme
1 sprig of rosemary
1/4 cup sunflower seed kernels
3 tablespoons of butter
1/2 teaspoon of cumin
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of clove
1 egg
1/4 cup chicken stock

Leftover bread, toasted up
Like I had mentioned, I like to scavenge in my freezer and fridge for ingredients. Odds are, if you're like me, you've got some hamburger buns, or rolls, or whatever kind of bread that has been sitting in your freezer for far too long. Take out those leftovers and give them a bit of attention. You basically want to slice them up into cubes, and have about 3 to 4 cups of cubes. I heat my oven to 400, and also melt some butter in a frying pan. Throw in the cubes, toast them and coat them with the butter, and then throw into the oven for about five minutes until they're nice and crisped up. So easy.
Next, you'll throw in about two tablespoons of butter into a little frying pan on medium-low heat. Toss in the carrot, onion and celery and let them sweat down a bit before adding the garlic. Toss in the garlic and also the thyme, rosemary, and sunflower seeds. Add the spices. Coat everything and cook for a couple minutes more, before killing the heat.
Stuffing, ready and willing
Now your bread cubes should be ready to go, and you can toss those into a 9x9 baking dish, which is just about the right size to combine all the ingredients. Add the sauteed veggies, and also beat one egg, and add that to the mix. Dive into the stuffing with your hands and make sure everything is nice and mixed up. If you like it mushier, or more of a wet stuffing, you can add in the 1/4 cup of chicken stock, which usually makes for my perfect consistency. Like I said, make it your own. You like sausage and have some leftover? Go for it. You want to add oysters? Go for it. You want cornbread stuffing? Do it up. It's all about what you have, what you like, and how tonight it's not going to matter because there's no family members to judge.
Cornish hens, ready for the oven
With the stuffing ready, it's time to stuff the hens. I chose a cornish hen recipe by the Barefoot Contessa, because it was easy, and yes... I do find Ina Garten's voice extremely comforting... especially when she talks about bacon and good olive oil. I digress. It's a simple recipe. Basically, stuff your hens with the stuffing, tie up the legs, tuck the wings underneath, rub all over with olive oil and salt and pepper. She also recommends layering onion in your pan, so that the hens can sit on top of them. This has the potential for nice soft, flavorful onions in the case that you or I want to make a bit of gravy. Anyway, with the hens stuffed and salted, into a 425 degree oven they go for thirty-five minutes or until the juices run clear. Just to be sure, take a reading with your thermometer in the thickest part of the meat and also in the center of the stuffing. (Also, another tip, if you followed the guidelines I provided above for the stuffing, odds are you have quite a bit left. I basically just left the stuffing around the baking dish and threw it into the oven when the hens had about fifteen minutes to go. This allows for the stuffing top to get a little crisp, and then you have another little treat.)
Thanksgiving dinner - in mini
Alright, so the birds have come out of the oven, the stuffing is done, and your other sides are ready. Isn't this the prettiest little feast? Cornish hens have the delicate flavor of chicken with maybe just a touch of gaminess from being a smaller bird. This recipe leaves the birds nice, juicy, and plump, while the skin is salty, crispy, and a touch fatty, just as lovely skin should be. The stuffing at the center of the bird is nice and moist, flavorful by way of cooking inside the bird the entire time and capturing all those delectable drippings. The sunflower seeds offer a lovely nutty sweetness, and that extra crunchy texture. And the fresh herbs and scent of cumin, cinnamon and clove manage to give the hens additional depth of flavor. Cornish hens, baked up with any stuffing your heart desires, are succulent and decadent, just like Thanksgiving, but whenever you want it. 

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